The Chicago Bears will be looking to reach the .500 mark again for the first time since their Week 6 win against the Atlanta Falcons, but the task will be far from easy as they go up against the defensively dominant Detroit Lions.
As the two teams prepare to take the field on Thanksgiving, we have three keys that can help make the Bears’ holiday in the Motor City a bountiful one.
Forget the Deep Ball, Focus on Slants
The Bears are a team that has huge wide receivers capable of going up and winning jump balls, but over the past few weeks, they’ve gotten away from that model. Their offense has become much more dink and dunk, and they only completed four passes of 10 yards or more in their win Sunday over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
While some observers have said that the Bears need to stretch the field more with their deep vertical passing game, doing so against the Lions would be a fool’s errand. They’re one of the few teams in the NFL that has the size in their secondary to compete with guys like Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, and so challenging them over the top could result in a long day at the office for Jay Cutler.
Instead, Cutler should rely on Jeffery, Marshall, and Marquess Wilson to run short slant routes to find soft spots in the Detroit defense, and doing so will not only give the Bears more of a chance of success in getting completions, but also will help keep Cutler upright against a ferocious Lions pass rush.
Reserves Must Play Like Stars
The Bears are going to be missing a couple of players on Thursday, as Brian de la Puente was placed on injured reserve and Lance Briggs hinted that he will not be able to play after sustaining a groin injury against the Buccaneers. The Bears could also be without Kyle Fuller, who has been listed as “did not practice” on the injury report all week (the Bears didn’t hold any practices, so the designations were estimates).
In order for Chicago to win this game, they are going to need to get some big contributions from these players’ replacements. Michael Ola will slide back in to left guard in place of de la Puente, with Jordan Mills presumably rejoining the lineup after missing the last two weeks. Mills is going to have his hands full with Ezekiel Ansah on the right side of the line, but Ola will have it worse as he tries to contend with N’Damukong Suh and Caraun Reid up the middle.
As for Briggs, his presence in calling out plays and helping to stop the run will be sorely missed, and Khaseem Greene will slide into the weak side linebacker spot to replace him. He’ll have to keep an eye on Eric Ebron for the Lions over the middle of the field, but he may also have to deal with the Lions’ running game if they can get Joique Bell going. Demontre Hurst would be the most likely replacement for Fuller at corner if he can’t go, and having to go up against either Golden Tate or Calvin Johnson would be a tall order.
The Bears were ravaged by injuries last year, and slowly but surely they’re dealing with the same issues again. The question is whether or not they can overcome it thanks to improved depth at certain positions, and this week will go a long way toward answering that query.
Special Teams Must Play Clean Game
The Bears’ special teams unit has been, in a word, bad this season, with frequent penalties, struggles by punter Pat O’Donnell, and even missed field goals by Robbie Gould all conspiring against them. The worst part of all of it however, has been the kick returning, with Rashad Ross, Senorise Perry, and Chris Williams all failing to grab the role.
If the team is going to win on Sunday, they are going to have to clean up in all of those areas. No more holding penalties that tack yardage onto kicks and returns. No shanked punts by O’Donnell (like the one he mis-kicked in the closing stages of their game against the Buccaneers). More accuracy from Gould in the field goal kicking game. Most importantly of all, Marc Mariani needs to decide more appropriately when to bring the ball out of the end zone on kick-offs, because that will help determine where the Bears get the ball during games.